Want proof of Latin’s reach? Look no further than pop collective Black Eyed Peas, whose Spanglish album “Translation,” released in June 2020, has yielded four No. 1s on Billboard’s Latin Airplay chart in the past 14 months.
Do you need to be Latin to create a Latin album? The group proves that you don’t.
Beyond being a bilingual project, Will.i.am, Apl.de.ap and Taboo’s “Translation” is predominantly infused with Latin rhythms, featuring a roster of Latin artists. Track after track comes with collaborations with some of the hottest names in reggaeton, pop and Latin trap, including J Balvin, Maluma, Ozuna, Nicky Jam, Shakira, El Alfa, Piso 21 and Becky G. Superstar guest roster aside, it’s virtually unheard of to see a project headlined by mostly non-Latin artists singing in Spanish, so a positive reception was anything but guaranteed. But when “Translation” was released, listeners couldn’t get enough.
“Mamacita,” “Ritmo” and “Girl Like Me,” the most popular songs from the album, sifted through streaming platforms and airplay, scaling up to the top of the chart. “Ritmo,” also part of the soundtrack to “Bad Boys 3,” became the top song in its genre of 2020, standing at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs for 24 consecutive weeks. Then came the viral success of “Girl Like Me,” a vibey song made by the Peas in collaboration with Shakira.
“Ritmo came out and we were like ‘bam! — told ya,’” said Will.i.am, explaining the process of creating a Latin album as a non-Latin group, and the key players they wanted to have on board. “I was like ‘We got the ‘Ritmo,’ we got Maluma on ‘Feel the Beat,’ ‘Mamacita’ with Ozuna, and ‘Vida Loca’ with Nicky Jam.’ Then I thought, ‘Let me go through my Shakira folder in my hard drive,’ and then I was like ‘Aha, there it is.’ Conceptually what we were looking for, for this record and what she was saying and the way she was saying it, for that next record to add to our compilation of Spanglish, it was perfect.”
“Translation” was released in June 2020, debuting at No. 3 on the Top Latin Album charts and at No. 52 on the all-genre 200, proving once again that Latin beats are what is trending on a global scale, while displaying Black Eyed Peas’ grasp on the extensive market of musical genres, along with beats and instruments, that Latin America encompasses.
“Latin is not pop, because it’s bigger than pop. Latin is Latin. It is the biggest [thing] in the world, and [even] pop isn’t as big as Latin,” said Will.
Apl.de.ap added: “Before when you’d go out it was trap or dance music, and now Latin music is the new club bangers — like, that’s what you turn up with.”
Not only are Latin genres trending within streams and airplay, but collaborations with artists within those genres are what drives numbers on the charts for many artists within the general market. A main aspect of “Translation’s” success is the perfect storm between Latin beats and a roster of hot Latin artists. In 2021, that’s a recipe for global success, and record labels have taken notice.
After being dropped from Interscope Records in 2019, for reasons the group referenced as “coming back as solely a trio in their 40s,” they resiliently continued working on the album, and when the opportunity came, they were ready to present it to Epic Records executives.
During a meeting which took place in Will’s Los Angeles studio, Ezekiel “Zeke” Lewis, executive vice president and head of A&R at Epic Records, came in to scope the proposal.
When Lewis heard the intro to “Ritmo,” he walked out of the room.
“He thought I didn’t like the record because I stood up so abruptly,” says Lewis. “When he played this record, all of my senses just came alive because since the song was the answer to the ‘Bad Boys 3’ film. I also found it to be a possible answer to what I consider the bridge to bring the Black Eyed Peas back into the market. Lewis adds that after initial resistance from Will on having “Ritmo” be the movie’s soundtrack, they agreed that he would sign the Black Eyed Peas and support their return to music with “Ritmo” as the driving force.
Will says that Epic Records’ executives saw the bigger picture and the success that an album such as “Translation” could have, as well as their future as a group of three.
“To think of us as a trio and that we are going to top the charts,” he said, “and you’re the chairwoman of Epic — you’re at the top — and you take a bet on us, on a ‘Bad Boys’ soundtrack… the lead song to tell the story… I have to salute Sylvia Rhone for believing in the Black Eyed Peas as a trio.”
The group also acknowledges that promoting their music has been easier thanks to social media and the dynamic accessibility that modern streaming allows for them to be heard worldwide, regardless of airplay.
After Shakira’s dance on “Girl Like Me” became a viral TikTok trend, the single shot up and it’s projected to become the biggest single off “Translation.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Taboo says. “‘Ritmo’ is almost at a billion and it took off like a bullet, but the energy that Shakira brought with the dance and the viralization of the dance and the outfit and uniform that she had… male, female, kids, babies, everyone is doing the dance. That shows the power in 2021 of these platforms, giving life to these songs. Even though we haven’t toured or performed for anybody, people are still gravitating to it.”